New Orleans residents are demanding accountability over an uptick in carjackings happening more frequently in broad daylight and in one neighborhood known for its strip of bars, restaurants and shops.
A man getting out of his truck shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday on Marshal Foche near Harrison Avenue in Lakeview was approached by two men who said they were armed and demanded his keys. The victim complied, and the suspects drove off. But hearing about the incident happening during a popular time for the district and on the same block as his home left longtime Lakeview resident, Felix Lepine, shaken.
"I’ve spent a lot of nights here as well, I walk right back home, and to think that the same thing could happen to you or your family or whatever, is very disturbing," Lepine told Fox 8 at the scene.
"They arrest people, and they are released, and the same thing happens again," he continued. "It’s the absence of accountability that I believe to be the biggest problem. It’s very disturbing what’s happening because I think it’s the beginning of the end for a really fine city if this keeps up."
It occurred the same day New Orleans Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson faced hours of questioning about his strategy to address an uptick in shootings and carjackings in The Big Easy during City Council’s first regular session since five new members have been elected, The New Orleans Advocate reported.
Ferguson, in the hot seat over a string of carjackings around Tulane and Loyola University campuses and after a woman was recently shot and killed on Interstate 10, said the criminal justice system isn't holding people accountable. Only four jury trials were held last year amid a backlog of cases from the pandemic.
The superintendent has been in a public feud with District Attorney Jason Williams, who during a recent press conference blamed the police department for not doing enough after an initial arrest to gather additional evidence to help prosecutors convince judges and juries.
"I’d like to see action being taken and not constant discussion," Lepine said. "It’s time to do something."
The department has dwindled to just 1,058 officers from the aftermath of 2020’s anti-police demonstrations, and Ferguson said police will soon deputize civilians to issue "quality of life" citations, freeing up more officers to sweep the streets to further investigate shootings and robberies.
New Orleans City Council President Helena Moreno pointed out that carjackings and robberies spiked almost immediately in 2020 after Ferguson, an appointee of Mayor LaToya Cantrell, moved to disband its Tactical Intelligence Gathering and Enforcement Response, or TIGER, units.
"I’m terrified to walk or drive the streets in my Uptown neighborhood, or anywhere," resident Christine Whitten told City Council. "I don’t feel I have a choice but to leave. Something must be done, now."
Another speaker, Oliver Fletcher III, argued that neighborhoods will resort to hiring private security.
"As this city gets more gentrified, more neighborhoods will take this route of private self-policing," he said during Thursday’s meeting. "People shouldn’t feel like they have to hire private security. This whole situation will be a bad trickle-down effect and lead to something."
The New Orleans Police Department on Thursday also asked the public for help identifying a suspect wanted in connection with a carjacking that took place in the 5600 block of Charlotte Drive on Jan. 19. Doorbell camera footage showed the suspect, described by police as a Black male wearing a black mask covering his face and clear gloves, walking on the sidewalk past houses on a residential street.
Not captured within frame, police say the suspect approached a female driver sitting in a parked vehicle at 5:13 p.m., tapped a black handgun on the passenger’s side window and pointed it at her, ordering her out of the car. The suspect entered the vehicle and fled southbound in the 5600 block of Charlotte Drive.
"We need to do something. Like something needs to be done now because it’s getting worse and it’s getting to the point where people don’t want to come outside," a resident in that neighborhood, who wanted to remain anonymous, told Fox 8.
Police ask anyone with information to contact NOPD Third District detectives at 504-658-6030 or call anonymously to Crimestoppers of Greater New Orleans at 504-822-1111 or toll-free 1-877-903-STOP.